With remote meetings not going anywhere anytime soon, how can you make sure your meetings run as smoothly as possible? Specialist in leadership and intercultural management in remote contexts, Béatrice Rivas-Siedel shares a few essential tips to keep in mind.
The current context has thrown us all into holding remote meetings. We meet on Zoom, Teams or Google to share information, progress on our projects, make decisions, generate ideas, train, recruit, and so on. Even though they may offer certain advantages, remote meetings will never replace in-person ones.
They imply certain risks: technical problems are always possible, there are often too many people speaking at the same time, concentration tends to decrease, we are distracted more quickly and, in the end, everything takes longer.
And yet remote meetings do have their advantages: better traceability of discussions, the possibility of written and oral communication, better punctuality, etc.
Here are some tips for more dynamic remote meetings in small groups:
1. Be prepared
It all starts with the right equipment: a headset with a built-in microphone (to avoid background noise and optimise sound), two screens (easier to navigate between several tools and files), a stable connection (preferably wired), a webcam that works (HD quality is best) and good lighting (avoid half-lighting, backlighting or lighting that is completely sideways and obscures the face). Set up in a calm, comfortable location.
2. All on an equal footing
Use the same communication channel for everyone: if some participants cannot access the conference by video, everyone should switch to audio to avoid creating a two-tier group. If someone is less equipped, make sure to call on them more regularly to ensure that they are following and have been able to add their contribution.
3. Get things off to the right start by
breaking the ice
Relationships and trust are built in informal moments. In-person, this happens naturally; remotely, things can be more formal. Here are some ideas to break the ice: introduce yourself in the chat room while waiting for the meeting to start and say where you are.
Express your expectations and share something new. In video mode, use the mosaic display and adopt the “bouncing ball” approach (add a gesture) to introduce each other in turn.
4. Simple, effective materials
Keep titles short and to the point and use effective visuals (only one theme per slide). Apply the “10/20/30” rule: 10 slides for 20 minutes of presentation and font size of no smaller than 30. The viewing size of your presentation on a computer screen, tablet or phone is much smaller than on a video projector.
You should therefore design your presentation to optimise reading.
5. Solicit participants regularly
When meeting remotely, there are many distractions and reasons to lose focus: chats, notifications, etc. Calling on people regularly allows them to reconnect with the meeting.
Checkpoints are quick recaps of what has been said of note, summarising what has been done, where we are, what remains to be done or to get the group to react and to gather feedback from everyone. The host should ask specific questions and invite the group to answer in the chat or to vote on or “like” proposals.
6. Manage any awkward silences
Avoid throwing out open questions such as “Do you have any questions?” or “Is that clear to everyone?” Silence may be the most likely answer. There is a tendency to act as an observer in remote meetings. Asking general questions to the group is natural in-person, but not remotely. Focus on specific questions such as, “In a word, what do you remember about these discussions?” or, “What surprised you about what was just said?”. You can also specifically name someone to answer the question.
7. Engage through a variety of activities
A message to be shared and posted at the same time in the chat room, an item to be fetched from the room to illustrate an idea, brainstorming on a whiteboard (e.g. Mural or Klaxoon), sub-group activities with breakout rooms, video tools, polls/quizzes, etc. Digital tools offer many possibilities for interactive and creative activities.
Finally, take regular breaks with an average ratio of 5 min/hour to be adapted to the time of your meetings in order to maintain the attention of your meeting participants.
This article first appeared in French in ESCP Business School’s alumni magazine.